Tradition runs deep through the veins of Dawson County, and no tradition is more sacred then the annual Lumpkin Campground Campmeeting. This year will mark 182 consecutive years of celebration and worship. Many Dawson County natives have participated since birth and consider the gathering much like a family reunion a chance to laugh and reminisce about past Campmeetings.
Campmeetings are so important around Dawson County that its one word instead of two, just like the word campground.
Thelma Byrd is a lifelong attendee of Campmeeting. And, after 82 years of consecutive Campmeetings, she says shes seen it all.
I can remember when we used to bring the water from the spring, and the boys would pour it on the hill and make it slick, and wed fall and get muddy, said Byrd. I can remember Mr. Bill Taffar used to come in his buggy and horse every day. Hed let us kids get in the buggy and ride us around.
We didnt have refrigerators, you know, and the iceman came around twice a week. And, there was a man that would kill beef at Campmeeting. Of course, that was the greatest thing in the world - fresh beef you see. There were no stores around here and it was so very different in that day and time, she added.
Byrd said she and her family enjoy the closeness Campmeeting provides, not only with one another, but also with other families and friends.
My favorite part about Campmeeting is the closeness it brings your family, and it is just very dear to me. Its just been something thats very great in my life for all my life.
History of Lumpkin Campground
Lumpkin Campground was established in 1830 when 40 men pledged one dollar each to purchase a forty-acre grove of trees. Here, a brush arbor was built from a simple shelter of saplings. Later, an open pavilion was constructed called the Arbor, and it remains as the place for worship services.
Other traditions of Campmeeting include the Whitewashing of the Trees. Elders pass the tradition down to their children and grandchildren by painting the Campgrounds tree bases with a whitewash mixture of lime, chalk and water. In the time of lanterns and kerosene, the dim light would reflect off of the base of the trees, preventing family members from bumping into them as they made their way to the Arbor for evening services.
Jean Denard is continuing Campmeeting tradition through her grandson, Justin Denard.
My daddys brother, Bunyon Elliott, brought back a conch shell from Alabama in 1910, she explained. The shell was given to my daddy, Alvin Elliott and several of my family members have blown the shell to call to worship.
And even today, the same shell is used to call to worship.
Its nice that I am part of something that all of my family has done. Justin is 20 years old and like most of his family, has attended Campmeeting every year since birth.
This years Campmeeting will offer several special guests as part of its youth services. Laura Story spoke on Tuesday. Trevor Bayne will speak tonight, and Eric Redmonwill attend tomorrow, July 26. All youth services will begin at 9:45 p.m.
Lollie Elliott, chairperson of the youth committee said she hopes the exposure will assist to reach everyone in the community.
Campmeeting is very much open to the public and thats what we want to stress, especially with our youth, explained Elliott. Even if you dont know anyone, you can just about go in any tent there and youll be treated just like family.We want you to come worship with us. We dont want it to be an enclosed circle. More than likely you will know somebody there.
This years worship services continue through Sunday, July 29. They are held daily at the Arbor at 11 a.m. and 7:45 p.m. with the exception of only one available on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. The host Pastor is Dr. Orin Sampson of Bethel United Methodist Church. Other guests include Ministers, Reverend Garry Polston and Dr. Jimmy Orr. The Reverend Glenn Ray will serve as this years song leader.
Theres a lot of old-timers still here and theres a lot of new people, too, said Byrd. Were glad to have anybody and everybody join us in fellowship, friendship and worship.